The last dry stone wall

Now it may seem modest to you. A few metres of rock. Sitting in front of what looks like a very rubbishy bit of hill.

And that is exactly the case.

It’s such a shame that it sits right in front of the house and is so incredibly steep.

All the rest of our walls (well those closest to the house) are an exercise in elegance and order.

This one…

I have been relying on the grape vines to disguise the eyesore of an abandoned septic tank for over a decade.

But the rocks were falling out of the poorly built wall the entire time.

So when you know the whole edifice will eventually come tumbling down… bringing with it your soft fruit orchard on the terrace above.

Time to act.

I have been stockpiling all the rocks that came out of the east wall of the house (French windows onto new deck in my office). And dropping random rocks from my travels around the terraces for the ‘one day this will get done’ moment.

And finally Agnes, our lovely neighbour gave me the dates.

A few afternoons in April until it’s done.

And in just five sessions I have a wall. (With absolutely no input from Madame on crutches for the last two.)

So herewith the process.

First we had to clear away the rocks that were badly placed and I had to grab as many rocks as I could find and place them in buckets in size order. (Nothing smaller than a satsuma size will do.)

Then with a crowbar and a positive attitude to weight to age ratios we worked.

Did I tell you that Agnes is almost 70? What an incredible role model.

We cleared the way. Set up the levels, decided on the curve and the building began.

The first layer was hard. We didn’t have a lot of huge stones to choose from.

But I was learning fast about the shape and the placement. And suddenly one row was in.

The second had smaller rocks and lots of wedges.

And we raided the old roof tile pile to make sure the soil didn’t impinge on our work.

There was a moment when the third layer went on that I thought it wasn’t going to pull together. It is competing in aesthetics and function with the giant wall all the way up the track behind it. Will it link? Will it read well from every view? (I tend to sneak up on this wall on a path rather than observe it front on.)

See, a bit wonky and bulging.

But ye of little faith. I feel like I turned my back and suddenly it was looking like a proper solid monument to the Ardeche ancestors.

We had to do a raid on a rock pile at the end of the property to finish it off.

And of course I now need to do an awful lot of landscaping to make it more visually pleasing.

Agnes will come back one more time to build me a step so I can get up onto the wall to weed and plant.

And then the baton passes to the next in need.

I think we are all volunteering at Pierrot’s wall which has fallen down beside his house next month.

I know what my limitations are. And believe me I am ace at filling buckets with appropriately sized rocks. But until I can walk or bend down, I may not be rolling boulders into place.

But I have joined the dry stone wall builders’ club.